I was never a huge fan of The Little Mermaid when I was growing up: Ariel was too idealistic, and Prince Eric a little dim (but handsome!) for my tastes. Turned out, all I needed to make myself for in love with the story was to make Ariel a prince-killing siren with a heart, and Eric a siren-killer who rejects his calling as a Prince to roam the seas with his trusty crew.
So, yes, I loved To Kill a Kingdom, from the first moment we were introduced to Lira and Elian. Christo’s writing style is excellent: she’s got a very engaging writing style, and immediately makes us feel for the main characters, even if at first glance they’re not very likeable. Lira’s known as the Prince’s Bane, for all the hearts that she’s taken, but she’s transformed into a human by her mother, the Sea Witch, to kill her nemesis: the siren-hunter Prince Elian.
The central dynamic between these two main characters is fantastic, as we get to see both sides of the story, and watch as their relationship evolves from mutual loathing to love (though of course Elian doesn’t know who Lira really is). It’s not insta-love: it’s something more interesting and natural, than that, which in turn means that I rooted for the characters more- and rooted for them to get together.
The plot was especially good in this regard: foregrounding the characters, giving them the time to get to know each other, before ramping up the tension to a final, nail-biting showdown. In fact, the showdown was pretty amazing, extremely unexpected and perfectly pitched: kudos to Christos’ writing skills, because I often find they’re the hardest thing to get right! But in the end, the focus is on Elian and Lira: they’re both difficult characters, with tortured pasts- Elian longs for the sea instead of the princedom, and Lira’s mother expects her to be the heartless siren killer she should be- so watching them come together is heart-warming. Also, a shout out to Elian’s crew, whose light banter and joking was hilarious to read, and made you all really care about them.
Christo also manages to set their story in an exciting world. Though perhaps the islands are a little too formulaic for my liking- one island is dedicated to love; another to gold and another to the art of lying- but she brings them vividly to life, with some pretty fantastic, lush descriptions that make you want to dive right in and explore (particularly the Eikyllios, the island dedicated to love, which sounds like it has some pretty excellent sweet shops).
Exciting, intense and exotic: for me, To Kill a Kingdom was a pretty fabulous debut. Christo has a great writing style, building a fantastical new world populated by interesting, multi-layered people. I’ll be looking forward to reading more!
Book cover taken from Goodreads.